An Empty InBox

2RZVIMDLQQ laptop coffeeMany years ago, my department at work took the Gallup StrengthsFinder survey to find out what we were best at, as defined by Gallup. At the top of my list was “Input.” That sounded odd to me, but the description of this strength said it meant I liked to collect things.

I’ve never had a collection of anything, but I do amass junk. Or so says my husband. I keep a lot of paper junk, but also a lot of digital junk. Still the Gallup terminology puzzled me. I decided that in my case “Input” meant I liked to collect information. I love to research. I like knowing things. I keep all my paper and digital files because they contain information, which I might need someday. I don’t know when I’ll need it, but I might. Someday.

A month ago, I smiled in amusement at a friend’s posting on Facebook about his project to clean out his email inbox. He had a few hundred messages in the inbox, apparently, and was determined to get the number down to zero.

Hah! I thought to myself, what a waste of time. What difference does it make if his inbox contains lots of messages? He doesn’t have to do anything with them. The emails can just sit there. They aren’t hurting a thing.

But a few weeks later, I involuntarily cleaned out my own inbox. I accidentally deleted everything in it.

I have three email addresses that I use regularly. I probably have been assigned half a dozen other addresses through various alumni organizations and other sources. Those I never look at. But these three I open daily.

One is my “real” email. Only personal friends and professional contacts get that one.

Another is my “writing” email. I use this one to publicize my writing, and I give it out publicly so readers can contact me.

The third is my “junk” email—the one that I use for shopping online and when I want to sign up for free stuff and sales advertised by retailers. This is the address I use to follow newsletters and blogs and just about everything else that doesn’t require my immediate attention when I get the email. I’m interested in lots of things—legal topics, human resources, writing, book marketing and publishing. I’m on a lot of distribution lists.

Thank goodness the “junk” email inbox was the one I deleted, because hardly any of the messages in it are mission-critical.

But a few of the deleted emails might be important. Maybe it wasn’t so good that this was the one I deleted. It would take hours to undo.

This inbox was by far my largest—over 6000 emails in it at the time. (Which is why I chuckled at my friend’s problem with his few hundred messages.) I tend to keep messages I haven’t read yet, or which have some interesting information I might want to pass along in Facebook groups or through Twitter feeds, or which offer a sale of clothes I might want to buy (though I don’t need a thing). The hoarding must be my Input strength coming through.

Like my friend, I’ve periodically made attempts to winnow down my inbox. I’ve trashed everything more than six months old, for example. Or deleted all messages from particular senders whose newsletters I’ve decided aren’t that interesting, or from retailers from which I never buy.

Sometimes I’ll go through an “unsubscribe” mode, in which I unsubscribe from everything I don’t want to read that day. I stop following blogs, delete persistent marketers, and cancel retail sales pushes.

But despite these efforts, as of Involuntary Trash Day, it had been a long time since my “junk” inbox had had fewer than 2000 messages in it.

I’m still not sure what I did that morning, but all of a sudden all 6000 messages were gone. The inbox was empty.

Upon investigation, I discovered that they had all gone into the Trash folder.

Well, heck, I thought, why not leave them there? Then I wouldn’t have to deal with them.

But what if there’s something in there I really should read? my Input gene asked.

So I went through the 200 or so unread messages in the Trash and some of the most current messages to decide what I really should keep. It wasn’t much. I only resurrected about 30 emails. (One was from the library telling me to call or my card would expire next month. Maybe I should let the library have my “real” email address.) The rest of the 6000 I left in the Trash folder, and let the system delete them permanently a day or two later.

I breathed a sigh of relief at the clean slate I’d involuntarily been given. And I vowed to act or delete on every message I received each day.

But I’m back up to 300 messages in that inbox already.

What do you do to control your email? Or do you bother?


In the last four months I have replaced two computers and an e-reader. All with better models, but the process of upgrading still has me in a semi-dysfunctional daze.

I knew last fall that my days were numbered – I had a six-year-old desktop that my husband and I both used daily, and a three-and-a-half-year-old laptop that had traveled from coast to coast with me many times.

Still, I figured we could hold out on replacements until Windows 8 was available, and then assess our options.

MC900290846My laptop was the first to go in mid-September. I wouldn’t say it died; it was more like a disabling stroke. It didn’t have the Windows Blue Screen of Death – it didn’t even get that far in the re-booting process before seizing. Instead, it took several hours of flashing screen and LED lights to find its way through BIOS and Windows and drivers to arrive at a facsimile of functionality. In other words, it did boot up, but only after hours of agony. At night, we shut the door to my office so the flashing lights of the laptop’s crazed innards wouldn’t keep my husband awake.

I learned not to let the laptop go into sleep mode and turned off all automatic updating features, so I could avoid this lengthy re-boot. The laptop was no longer portable – it had to stay tethered to its power cord to avoid hibernation.

MC900365790I began researching which laptop to buy.  But before I made a decision, we had a power surge at home, and the desktop fan gave up the ghost. It still worked, but groaned and wheezed in such pain that neither my husband nor I could bear to listen. I forced myself to flagellate the poor thing long enough to back up the data on the hard drive.

The desktop was my husband’s primary computer at home, so it had to be replaced immediately. But I am the designated technical expert in our house. That weekend I was at Best Buy.

“Give me that one,” I told the clerk, pointing at something on the shelf, not much caring what it was.

(Actually, I had done some research, and bought a very nice 23-inch touchscreen all-in-one. It has a much bigger screen than the old desktop, yet it takes up less acreage, and has a touchscreen to boot. All ready for Windows 8, though all this happened before Windows 8 launched.)

The new all-in-one came with Windows 7. The desktop it replaced had been running Windows XP, and my laptop Windows Vista. I immediately had to learn a new operating system.

And set up accounts for both my husband and myself on the new PC. And re-load all the software from the old PC. And transfer the data. Etc.

Plus upgrade Microsoft Office from the 2003 version on the old desktop to Microsoft Office 2010. Plus learn the touchscreen features.

I love new technology, but only when I have the luxury of time to play with it. Doing an upgrade with my husband breathing down my neck wanting to check email is no more fun than a forced desert march in August.

I waited until November, when Windows 8 was available, to buy my new laptop. I ordered a customized laptop online, with a solid state hard drive, only to discover it had to be manufactured in China. My delivery date was about two weeks out. I started watching the manufacturer’s website daily to track the progress. Not much different than a foreign adoption.

Finally, my laptop was at FedEx Ground in Shanghai.  Four days later it arrived at my front door. I really couldn’t complain about the service.

I turned on the laptop, and two minutes later (90 seconds of which was spent finding my wifi network passcode), I was on the internet reading email.

Windows iconThen I had to learn Windows 8. If Windows 7 is a change, Windows 8 is a cataclysm. I had only seen Windows 8 once before, when my brother-in-law who works for Microsoft had shown it to me.

Although Windows 8 looks very different, I’ve found that it is mostly intuitive . . . until it comes time to turn the damn thing off. Short of hitting the power button (which didn’t seem like a good way to shut down programs), I had no clue.

Thankfully, I discovered the Windows 8 Cheat Sheet & Tips app that came with the laptop. Of course, “Windows key/I” – I should have known that! There’s the power button icon for shutting down!

For the last few months, I have muddled through Christmas letters and labels for greeting cards, online shopping, Treasurer’s reports for the non-profit board I’m on, and minutes for another committee. I’ve learned how to check my three email programs, download books to my e-reader, reorganize the apps on the Windows 8 home screen, and customize the set-up so it is sort of to my liking.

I’m now semi-functional in both Windows 7 and 8 and on Microsoft Office 2010.  I haven’t lost any data that was critical (yet), though both the old desktop and the old laptop sit in corners awaiting a final check of their hard drives before they are taken to the guillotine.

I think I survived the upgrade relatively unscathed.

Then I got a new Nook HD e-reader for Christmas, to replace the NookColor I had used for two years. Another learning curve. I’ll write about that after I recover from the PC systems overload.

And I suspect I’ll be in the market for a new smartphone sometime in 2013.